Self-esteem plays an apparent role in the loss of virginity among adolescents, according to a study by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine published in the April 2002 issue of Pediatrics.
Self-esteem had opposite effects on young girls and young boys. Young girls with high self-esteem were less likely to engage in early sexual activity, while young boys with high self-esteem were more likely to report being sexually active.
This is the first study of its kind of young adolescents to demonstrate that self-esteem differences among young males and females are associated with subsequent initiation of sexual intercourse, said study co-author Gregory D. Zimet, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and clinical psychology. The study also showed that the level of self-esteem did not change in males or females following the loss of virginity.
Researchers followed 188 adolescents from seventh to ninth grades at two Indianapolis-area schools for the data. Students completed a questionnaire and were administered a standardized test measuring self-esteem at the beginning of seventh grade. A second questionnaire was completed by the students at the beginning of their ninth-grade year. In the seventh grade, all 188 students included in the study reported no history of sexual activity.
Results indicated that boys with high self-esteem were 2.4 times more likely to initiate intercourse than their peers with low self-esteem. High self-esteem had the opposite influence on girls, who reportedly were three times more likely to remain virgins than girls with low self-esteem. Fifty percent of the boys with high self-esteem in seventh grade had sex by ninth grade, compared to only 29 percent of the boys with low self-esteem. Conversely, 40 percent of the girls with low self-esteem in seventh grade had sex by ninth grade compared to only 18 percent of the girls with high self-esteem.